To the merchants he plunders, he is the Ghost Rider of the Dead Zone. To sector law enforcement, he is a wanted space pirate. To the slaves he rescues, he is a savior. To one determined female captain, Qaade Deter is serious trouble.
“Wow! What a story! Bravo!” -Best-selling Author Robin D. Owens
A Wanted Man
Torrie Masters had heard whispers of the Ghost Rider of the Dead Zone, but never expected to come face-to-face with the legendary space pirate. When Qaade Deter seizes her ship, Torrie has no choice but to surrender her cargo. Ignoring the dangers—including her intense attraction to the masked man—Torrie tracks him across the galaxy.
A criminal in the eyes of sector law enforcement, Qaade is haunted by the past. He won’t let anything get in his way, not even an enticing but infuriating redheaded captain with ties to his enemies.
When Torrie finds Qaade, she also stumbles upon a disturbing truth. Now, she’s torn between family loyalty, and falling for the most wanted man in the universe.
“Engine core meltdown in thirty-two minutes,” the ship’s computer said in a synthesized female voice.
“Words every captain wants to hear first thing in the morning,” Torrie muttered. Lying on her back, she yanked open the panel door above her. The primary circuits flashed furiously inside the cabinet. No wonder it wasn’t responding: the entire system was overloaded. She’d never be able to circumvent the problem from here.
Swinging out from under the engine banks, she hit the deck running. As she sped through the empty corridors of her dying ship, she pressed her personal comm unit. “Howser, where are you?”
Her first mate responded. “In the shuttle bay, loading the crew into the transport ship. When are you getting here?”
“I’m not.” Torrie leapt onto the third rung of the gangway ladder and climbed to the upper level.
“What? The ship is going to blow up in—”
“Thirty minutes, I know,” she finished, pulling herself up to the main deck. She ran past the flashing alarm lights toward the bridge. “You take the crew and get the hell out of here.”
“If you’re staying, so am I,” Howser replied. “Your brother didn’t put me on your maiden voyage to skip out when things got bad.”
Torrie jumped through the bridge hatchway. “And Carmon didn’t make you captain on this freighter, either. So get your ass in that ship and take care of my crew, or I’ll jettison the lot of you whether you’re inside or out. And don’t even think about staying behind. I already sealed the air lock.”
She shimmied into the command chair. “You better move before you lose the force-field barrier. I don’t need to tell you what happens to an unprotected body in deep space.”
She punched up the systems, but they responded sluggishly. For some unknown reason, the engine core temperature was still rising steadily into the red zone, and nothing she’d tried so far could stop its slow march to detonation.
“We are launched,” Howser said over her comm. The shuttle bay holocam confirmed that the small transport carrying Howser and the rest of her five-man crew was pulling away from Ventura2. She closed the shuttle bay doors in case Howser decided to play hero.
“Jump to hyperspace now. I want you as far away as possible.”
He grumbled something that she didn’t quite catch and probably didn’t want to hear anyway, but her scanners verified the transport’s jump— out of visual, and out of danger if she failed. Then she remembered something and glanced around the bridge. “Do you have Nod with you?”
“Yes, of course,” Howser griped. “He’s flying around here, asking everyone if he can help. Really, can we reprogram him? Doesn’t he have another line?”
Despite the dire situation, Torrie smiled. “If we ever get out of this mess, I’ll try again.” Then she added a heartfelt, “Thank you, Howser.”
“Don’t thank me. I’m the one who’s going to have to tell your mother and the rest of the family that you went down with the ship for no good reason.”
The lights on the bridge flickered off, leaving only the control console lit. Wonderful. Torrie decided not to tell Howser.
“I don’t plan on letting my ship explode. There has to be a way to cool the core.” She tried manual shutdown of the engine drives, but they wouldn’t obey. She tried rerouting all activity through the primary channel so she could cram a shutdown command through the secondary systems. No go.
Frustrated, she repeated an earlier order, hoping it would get through this time. “Computer, Priority One command: Shut down engines immediately.”
“Unable to comply,” it responded, as it had to all her previous requests.
She banged on the console. “Why the hell not?”
“Last command unclear. Please rephrase question.”
Torrie gritted her teeth. “Computer,” she began with all the self-control she could muster, “why can’t you comply to Priority One shutdown?”
“All previous commands are in wait queue.”
“Then move my commands up in the queue,” she told it.
“Unable to comply.”
Torrie mimicked the computer’s patent response. “Computer, if you can’t multitask, I’m changing you to a male.” She pushed a tangle of hair out of her face and hit her comm. This doesn’t make sense, Howser.
It’s like they are all overloading at once. The more I try to clear a channel, the more locked out they become.”
“We did get that strong energy surge right before the circuits went crazy,” Howser noted.
“Core meltdown in twenty-three minutes,” the computer recited.
“Computer, you can shut up now.”
Torrie leaned forward and worked the controls again, trying everything her years of practicing in emergency simulation exercises had taught her. Systems were freezing up, leaving her with fewer and fewer options. In the back of her mind, she began to wonder if maybe Howser was right. If she couldn’t find a way to gain control of the core, she’d be vaporized with the rest of the ship.
“All systems are now offline. Onboard computer shutdown imminent,” the computer said.
Torrie watched helplessly as the entire control panel went dark, plunging her into the pitch-black of the deep space surrounding her. Outside of the panoramic viewport, a billion stars pierced the endless universe. The silence was painful.
“What happened?” Howser asked.
Torrie closed her eyes and accepted her fate. “We’re dead.”
“That’s it, I’m coming back for you.”
“You know it’s too dangerous to drop out of hyperspace prematurely. Besides, I have no power. I can’t open the shuttle bay door.”
“What about the manual air locks? You could put a suit on and get out—”
“And then what?” she interrupted. “I couldn’t get far enough away from the ship to make a difference.
And even if by some miracle I could, you don’t have an air lock on the transport to bring me aboard.”
“We could hail a nearby ship,” Howser pressed.
“You know there isn’t another ship in the vicinity. And even if you found one, do you want to inform them we’re going to blow into a billion pieces shortly?”
For once, Howser was silent. He knew she was right. She rubbed her arms, her tank top offering little protection as the bridge grew markedly colder. She should grab a jacket, but what was the point? How long did she have? Twenty minutes? Not much time to tie up one’s life.
“I guess you were right after all,” she admitted. “This wasn’t one of my better ideas.”
It took a few moments before he replied, and he sounded choked up. “I’m going to stay with you until the end, Torrie.”
She smiled sadly. She knew he would, too. Howser had always been there for her, teaching her, encouraging her. He’d worked for her family’s merchant shipping business for as long as she could remember. His confidence in her abilities was one of the reasons Carmon had let her have her own run—a run she’d fought for her entire life and finally won. And now lost.
She stared into the stars, and her heart ached in her chest. This is where she belonged: among the vastness of space, free to spread her wings and fly. Her family called her the wild one, but she knew exactly where she was going. Even if the journey ended up killing her.
She pushed fear aside, blocking it from her mind. She wasn’t going to spend the last minutes of her life feeling sorry for herself. If she had a choice on how to die, this would be it—quick, painlessly and with her ship.
Howser interrupted her thoughts. “You can record a message over the comm, and I’ll deliver it to whoever you want.”
She swallowed. “Good idea.” She should leave her family a message. Torrie gathered her thick, disheveled hair in her hands and began to braid it blindly, trying to decide what to say to her mother.
After watching Torrie’s father die just a few short months ago, Nevica Masters would be devastated by another loss, especially that of her only daughter. Torrie recalled their last conversation, and her final agreement with her mother. If this run doesn’t work out, I promise I’ll stay on Dun Gali and help run the business. She’d never once expected that she wouldn’t succeed. Well, at least she wouldn’t be stuck in the office for the rest of her life. Or worse, married to some money-hungry man her family thought would keep her safe and dormant and out of trouble.
And she wouldn’t have to listen to six older brothers gloating that they were right all these years—she couldn’t handle her own run. She preferred death to that. Her fingers stilled in hair that felt heavy. Hope flickered. She stood up in the silence of her lifeless ship, and took a few tentative steps around the bridge.
“Howser, if we power-out, shouldn’t the artificial grav be down, too?”
“It’s not. And the stabilizers are still functioning. Otherwise, I’d be listing by now.” She moved around the bridge, blindly accessing anything she could get her hands on. “Something’s not right. Computer, are you there?”
Howser asked, “Can you tell if the core is still roasting?”
“No. None of the monitors are functioning.” She stared at a pinprick of light on the wall panel in front of her. “But we have juice somewhere.”
“Auxiliary?” Howser asked.
“If auxiliary were on, I’d have computer access. It should be the last system to go.”
A slight movement outside her viewport caught her attention. She looked up and concentrated on the spot where she thought she’d seen it. Nothing but black, black and more black. That’s when she noticed the billions of. stars were gone. A shadow passed in front of her. A ship.
Impossible. Her scans would have picked up a vessel this close.
‘Tor—” Howser’s message was cut off in a blast of static through her comm. “. . . Nod detects . . .activity near—” More static. Torrie turned down the volume. The transmission wasn’t getting through: someone was blocking it.
The ship’s consoles suddenly came to life. Torrie reached out and accessed the closest one.
“Systems locked out,” the computer said, startling her. When had the computer come back up?
“Locked out by who?” Torrie asked.
“Security override. Voice confirmation: Torrie Masters,” she told the computer.
“I’m definitely changing you to a male,” Torrie muttered, and checked the ship’s stats. The engine core temp was within the normal range. In fact, all her systems were normal. They just were no longer under her control. She knelt under the main console and started loosening the fasteners on the panel. If she couldn’t get in the easy way …
“Shuttle-bay door activated,” the computer announced.
Torrie raised her head over the console, and watched in disbelief as the shuttle bay holocam showed a midsized ship entering and setting down. It wasn’t Howser.
“Pirates,” she whispered in loathing.
4 1/2 STARS!! “This awesome book roars out of the starting gates and never looks back. Along with telling social commentary, it is chock—full of danger, adventure, and romance—a terrific keeper!” —Jill Smith, Romantic Times Magazine
“There’s a satisfaction in seeing attraction and love heal, grow, and develop people into even better versions of themselves, and that satisfaction is certainly found in this book.” —Sarah, Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Novels, Trashy Books Grade: A—
“Ms. Barry’s story-telling alone makes her an author not to be missed. I know a lot of people see the futuristic genre and think it is not for them, but C.J. Barry is adept at creating situations and individuals that readers will care about regardless of location.” —Jaymi, Fallen Angel Reviews
“Barry’s latest novel in her futuristic UN series is the perfect blend of sci-fi and romance. It’s an exciting romp through deep space with a sexy pirate and a ship’s captain just woman enough to take him on.” Sue Burke, Reviewers for Fresh Fiction
“C. J. Barry’s futuristics just keep getting more and more ‘edge of your seat’ exciting.” —Kathy Boswell, The Best Reviews
“The combination of science fiction, romance, futuristic world, powerful characters and stellar writing, readers are blown away with this story. It’s exciting, fast-paced and dangerous.” —Tracey West, The Road to Romance